Not all hearts in February are for Valentine’s Day. Annually, February marks American Heart Month. At Pediatrix, we’re proud to support the subspecialty of pediatric cardiology. But our cardiology care doesn’t end with children.
Joel Hardin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, and a handful of other Pediatrix clinicians, are among a subset of providers in the unique subspecialty of adult congenital heart disease (ACHD). ACHD was only formally recognized as a subspecialty by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2015. Dr. Hardin works at Pediatric Cardiology Associates and is the co-director of their Tampa Bay Adult Congenital Heart Center in Tampa, Fla. Why does a physician for adults work at a pediatric practice? It’s a system-related advantage to their practice, creating a team of congenital heart disease experts. We recently spoke with Dr. Hardin to understand more about ACHD and how it fits into pediatrics—and how it stands alone. Although he studied pediatric cardiology care, Dr. Hardin is 100% dedicated to adults with congenital heart disease. He focuses on the underlying cause of congenital heart disease (CHD), not just the condition itself.
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What is congenital heart disease?
Congenital defects related to the heart are present at birth. Therefore, a pediatric cardiologist oversees initial care. But when patients age out of pediatrics, that doesn’t mean their condition disappears. Enter adult congenital heart disease specialists, like Dr. Hardin. These clinicians care for the 1.4 million adults in the U.S. living with CHD. The number of adult CHD patients now overshadows the number of pediatric patients, giving rise to adult care as its own specialty. CHD is very rarely a preventable disease, and those afflicted by it need to understand what they will face as they grow older.
One of the most important steps for managing CHD is finding proper care. Dr. Hardin suggests the Adult Congenital Heart Association as an excellent resource for patients to find care in their area. ACHD patients, like many adults, face common health challenges, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other cardiovascular disease risk factors. Being under the care of a specialized ACHD clinician helps tie together the unique aspects of treatment needed for a rare condition into the overall plan for lifetime wellness. ACHD specialists also help physician colleagues in other disciplines understand how and why this condition may require another doctor to adapt their treatment advice to not cause a problem for the heart.
Given the relative newness of the adult congenital heart disease subspecialty, care in this area is exponentially rising. Patients and other health care providers need to understand that these clinicians are not merely an extension of pediatric cardiology. Specialized ACHD care is internal medicine-based and provides an exclusive commitment to caring for adults. ACHD clinicians work closely with cardiologists who refer patients, but their role is not primary care cardiology. The CHD specialists, whether pediatric or adult, serve to augment care and provide support. They are advisors to cardiology teams.
The future of ACHD
Dr. Hardin finds joy in serving patients that are thriving. For his adult patients, their parents often wondered if they would survive childhood. “The resilience of people that have grown up with heart disease is inspiring. They’ve overcome incredible odds. It’s humbling that they trust you with their care,” imparts Dr. Hardin. For him, the most memorable patients are mothers or expectant mothers who may have been told children wouldn’t be a possibility. Seeing a current patient with her children is a positive reminder of strength and the ability to defy the odds.
As Pediatrix continues to offer unique subspecialty care, like ACHD, we consistently move closer to our mission to Take great care of the patient, every day and in every way™. From beginnings in neonatology, the expansion of women’s and children’s solutions creates a strong family of services that continue to work together to improve the continuum of care.
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